Raleigh RX Race Review
Getting the Heron Dirty – a review of the Raleigh RX Race cyclocross bike.
Our test bike arrived as the UK ‘cross season was in full swing, providing plenty of opportunity to give it a thorough testing in the local London Cross League races, as well as thrashing around Sussex’s bridleways and lanes – remember a versatile ‘cross bike isn’t just for an hour of muddy fun.
The RX Race has a soft matt finish to it’s high modulus carbon frame, which has stood up well to half a cross season of racing and riding, with all the washing and scrubbing, and being carted about in or on-top of cars to races.
The RX Race sports a press fit 30 bottom bracket and tapered head tube, both items promising improved stiffness over previous standards. A SRAM Apex groupset with 36-46 chainrings gets you going and Tektro CR 720 cantilever brakes with cartridge pads slows you down. As such the frame is ripe for upgrading at a later date, and there are even cable routing options for electronic groupsets if you fancy running Di2 on the RX at any point.
Wheels are Cole Rollen CX and are shod with Schwalbe Racing Ralphs. Seating and steering are handled by a colour co-ordinated Selle Royal Seta S1 saddle and FSA Omega bar, stem and seatpost. Weight is a respectable, though not especially light, 8.7 Kg; until it’s covered in several kilos of finest English mud that is!
Taking the RX Race out of the box, the matt, black and orange finish looks sharp and as mentioned has proven to be pretty tough after three months of racing and riding. It covers a fairly traditional looking carbon frame with, though there are some minor sculpted details on the seatstays and chainstays, generally round and muscular tube shapes. There are a couple of points on the back end of the RX that did cause it to be more susceptible to catching mud; the wishbone seatstays and chainstay bridge proved to be ‘collecting places’ in early season races when the races tend to be on leaf strewn courses. Throw in some mud and the rear end would start to clog with leaves. On one particularly leaf blown, ‘cross ride through some forest lanes, the RX did actually come to a complete stop…
Up front the RX’s C5 forks are straight, chunky and combined with a tapered headtube that explain the RX’s excellent steering. Connecting the front end to the rear, is a round top tube. A lot of ‘cross bikes feature top tubes with the underside flattened to make shouldering more comfortable but Raleigh haven’t bothered with this on the RX. I must admit that with the short carry sections that happen in most races, this hasn’t been an issue and the standard round tubing never proved to be a problem or uncomfortable when running or carrying.
First ride out was around the local park where I regularly scare the local dog walkers by doing my ‘cross training. Weaving in and out of a line of conveniently spaced trees showed that Raleigh have got the RX Race’s steering and balance spot on. Increasing the speed and making turns as late as possible or riding slow and taking them wide didn’t faze the RX Race, which remained balanced and composed, with excellent acceleration out of the corners.
Indeed both acceleration and comfort are, as you would expect from a carbon frame, excellent. On any surface, even riding across soggy grass, you can feel the RX Race instantly respond to your input and after an hour of racing, although tired, it still felt comfortable. Taking the RX out on longer road rides with road tyres it easily kept up with the ‘proper’ road bikes on the Sunday club run. If it wasn’t for the extreme wet weather here in the UK during the test period I would have taken the RX to one of the winter road racing leagues, as it would easily have fitted in with the skinny tyre crew.
The compact handlebars make staying in the drops very comfortable, enabling me to keep the power on through grassy, bumpy sections. However, I found riding on the hoods of the SRAM Apex levers to be uncomfortable, but this is a personal thing, as I know riders who will only ride SRAM. Even though I have small hands the SRAM levers felt cramped and the transition from bar to lever was quite abrupt, causing me some discomfort – good thing then that the FSA Omega bars were so comfortable.
Taking the RX out on some longer rides, mixing road and trail is a real joy. I ran the Racing Ralphs at 60psi; not so soft that it wallowed on the road, but still enough give for riding the trails whilst helping to keep pinch flats down. The Selle Royal Seta S1 saddle proved very comfortable on these longer rides (and the fact that the orange side panels matched the frame was a bonus).
These kind of rides are where a ‘cross bike can shine outside the usual hour of racing. With the ability to connect trails by using the road, or to avoid roads by cutting across country, a cyclo-cross bike can make you look at your local rides in a whole different way. Routes you would previously have avoided suddenly become accessible; even flooded, muddy back roads are no longer off-limits. Come the summer, when those trails have dried out, the feel will be completely different, especially down here on our chalky South Down’s trails, which will start to take on the look of the recent Strade Bianche or L’Eroica!
Raleigh have equipped the RX Race with SRAM’s Apex groupset. It may seem odd to put a low end groupset on such a good frame, but after watching many riders pulling out of races with top end – even the odd Di2 derailleur – turned into so much scrap metal, it doesn’t seem such an odd choice. Running a cheaper groupset means that when things do go wrong, which they will, then financially it won’t be such a blow.
I have ridden SRAM’s top Red groupset on various road bikes, but this was my first time with Apex. Unfortunately I didn’t come away too impressed… My biggest gripe was with the shifting. It was a pain to get the indexing to work, even before it had seen any mud; once mud was added to the mix I was riding a single speed! After oiling and changing the cables twice and with a longer, smoother cable run the shifting was much improved, but the rear mech still had problems when it started to get muddy. But then this is the penalty you pay when running cheaper components; they may be cheaper to replace, but their performance won’t be as good as their more expensive siblings. If you are used to Dura-Ace don’t expect to be impressed…
Another issue with the rear mech were the jockey wheels, after 2-months they were a seized, rusty mess. I was able to disassemble them and get them running again, but this is the kind of thing you need to be aware of when cyclocross racing.
Braking on the RX Race is handled by Tektro CR 720 cantilever brakes which were fine for races as in most ‘cross races, huge braking power isn’t needed as the speeds and conditions mean you’re not going as fast as you would on the road or on an mtb. Also you tend to be scrubbing off speed rather than coming to a dead halt. On longer off road runs, where you’re more likely to come across longer downhill sections, the Tektros were a little out of their league and did see me squeezing the levers all the way to the bars. They did the job but you have to keep an eye on your speed and not let the bike get away from you. Having cartridge pads make their replacement that much easier and both brakes have barrel adjusters to allow for brake adjustment; they were squeal free for the whole time that I had them.
This was also the first time I had come across Cole wheels and their CX were a nice looking pair of wheels. Being aluminium rims with 28 round spokes, they looked to be a solid wheel and at a claimed 1900g, they’re not the lightest, they made for good training or spare wheels. Shod with Schwalbe’s Racing Ralphs they proved dependable, staying straight and true with only one pinch puncture during the whole test period. The only flaw with their design is that the rear seals aren’t as good as they should be, and towards the end of the test period there were some crunching sounds coming from the rear bearings, though this does have a habit of happening in cyclocross…